"Fake" butter chicken

Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Serves: 4


Butter chicken is a favorite across the world: a simple tomato-cream gravy with boneless chicken pieces bobbing about just waiting to be scooped up by a crispy piece of naan. Like all really good things, butter chicken is not exactly what you would call healthy—unless of course you consider butter to be healthy, as many discerning chefs and the French do.


Anyway, the super news is that I’ve come up with a homemade version without the gazillion calories. And while this homemade, “fake” version may not be quite as slurp-worthy as what you get at an Indian restaurant, you’ll be happy to know it still tastes pretty delicious.


1 pound (500 g) boneless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces or strips
(I like to use thigh meat because it’s so flavorful and tender)
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste (or use 2 teaspoons finely chopped
fresh ginger and 1 small clove garlic, minced)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
2 tablespoons (30 g) butter, divided
1 green bell pepper or capsicum, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
1 small onion, quartered, layers separated
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 green chili, slit lengthwise, seeds removed
2 cups (500 ml) canned tomato sauce or freshly pureed tomatoes
(requires about 3 to 4 tomatoes)
A generous pinch of sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) milk, preferably full-fat or heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves), optional; these add
a ton of flavor, so try some from an Indian grocery


  • Put the boneless chicken in a bowl and add the ginger-garlic paste, salt, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and chili powder. Mix well and set in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a sauté pan, wok, or kadhai; stir-fry the marinated chicken on high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until all the pinkness is gone (90% cooked). Add the pepper and onion; stir-fry for another minute.
  • Using a slotted spoon, transfer the semi-cooked chicken and vegetables to a bowl, keeping the liquid in the pan to use for the sauce.
  • In the same pan, on medium-high heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. When it bubbles, add the ginger and green chili, let them sizzle, then add the tomato sauce. Keep stirring and cooking the tomato sauce for 3 to 4 minutes, till it becomes a deep, dark red color. Add the sugar.
  • Add the chicken, onions, and capsicum to the gravy and stir well. Cover the pot and simmer for a few minutes.
    Slowly stir in the milk or cream and simmer for another 2 minutes. Taste the sauce to adjust the seasoning as necessary. You may need to add more salt at this stage or more sugar if you want it sweeter.
  • Just before serving, sprinkle with the garam masala and kasoori methi. Serve hot with basmati rice or crisp, buttered naans.


TIP: If you’re going for the restaurant version, I would strongly recommend using the cream instead of milk—and definitely use canned tomato sauce for a sweeter taste. Finally, mix in another tablespoon or two of butter at the end while garnishing. All rather sinful, but don’t worry—I won’t tell anyone.